The Origins of his Moral Philosophy
Charles G. Baldwin
[Extracts from an address delivered at the Tolstoy
Centenary held under the auspecies of the Maryland Tax Reform
Association. Reprinted from Land and Freedom, May-June 1929]
Charles Dickens (whom Tolstoy frequently quotes) portrayed the
miseries and joys of poverty, and himself sought and obtained riches.
Tolstoy portrayed the miseries and joys of riches and himself sought
Henry George, acquainted with poverty by experience, sought wealth
for all as distinguished from riches for any, and devised a practical
method of attaining his object.
These three great philosophers agree in this that our economic
welfare is a matter of primary importance to our happiness.
Tolstoy recognized the soundness of the philosophy and method of
Incidentally, all three of these great original thinkers and teachers
recognized the wisdom, chivalry and meekness of one of the greatest of
all poets, soldiers, and statesmen, David, King of Israel, who said, "Give
me neither poverty nor riches, but feed me with food convenient for
In order to appraise the value of Tolstoy's views it may be helpful
to consider for a moment his character as a man.
Henry George, being himself always a victim of poverty, might be
charged with an unjustifiable bias against the rich, but Tolstoy, who
was a rich man, is not open to this criticism. If Tolstoy condemns
riches, it is not by reason of any envy of the rich, or the pinch of
No matter what form of government, if it fails to do its chief duty,
it fails just as badly as any other form of government.
Tolstoy did not share the revolutionary zeal of those who opposed the
arbitrary powers of the Czar.
He pointed out that Europe and America had succeeded in diminishing
neither poverty nor excessive riches by changes in their form of
Tolstoy's life presents strange paradoxes upon the surface, but his
influence is greatly increased when we examine these and find beneath
only consistent growth and development in spite of a hostile
Fruit trees planted in rocky soil give more fruit than those in rich
Perhaps there is space to examine briefly a few of these paradoxes.
Tolstoy was descended from a friend of Peter the Great, was a petted
nobleman with large estates and high rank, with access to the Czars,
and he was a successful soldier in the greatest army then known, and
yet he was a benignant anarchist.
He was rich by his own inheritance and by his own literary work, and
yet he was a common laborer with his hands.
His anarchy is explained by his Christianity. His kingdom was not
founded upon arbitrary power but upon the kingdom of service.
Tolstoy in his work, A Great Iniquity, gives the history of
taxation, and shows that any form of government might, if it would,
collect the rent of land and expend it for the benefit of society.
This is its chief service, and if it does more, it robs, and if it
does less, it encourages theft.
In his view the world was one huge family, all men were brothers, and
if some were enslaved and robbed none could rejoice, no matter how
serviceable and wise might be his local government.
So his anarchy was benignant like that of Jesus when He broke the
Sunday law and healed on the Sabbath, and when He failed to prosecute
an adulterous woman.
Another Tolstoyan paradox was his love for manual labor. Here he
seemed a better Christian than Christ. Paul could no longer practice
law, because lawyers, as part of the boasted jurisprudence of Rome,
had crucified Jesus. Paul must share the ostracism of all Christians,
and he fell back on tent-making as a trade not inconsistent with
Christianity. Jesus had raised religion and medicine above the pagan
era of human sacrifice, and of all the earned professions that of the
law refused then, as it does now, to follow his teaching.
Tolstoy had labored to free the serfs. He must labor to share their
labors, to teach them how to find "the yoke that was easy and the
burden that was light." When, Dehold, a great light shown around
and about him, and found that he could teach the manual laborer
nothing. 3irth, marriage, and death were no mystery to the manual
aborer, and he, Tolstoy, a parasite, as he delighted to call limself,
had to learn this manual labor and from laborers the answer to the
riddles of Life. He, a parasite, must also sit in sackcloth and ashes
for years of idleness. He :ound the roots of all art in the hearts of
the peasants, tfere was the answer to this paradox Liberty for leisure
is a call to labor.
He invited his wife and family to labor and to the same hope of
immortality, and when they declined he gave them all of his ill-gotten
gains, and, with no place to lay his head as an old man, marched out
alone to face death as did Moses.
"Life's only happiness was in doing good for the whole world."
This sums up Tolstoy.
You may say this wordly, sensual and violent youth having drunk
life's sweets to the dregs leaves only its dregs of labor and
lonesomeness for others.
The answer is "Yes, so it was," but he was a victim of
unjust social conditions which forced unearned riches upon him and
made him and the undeservedly poor a menace and burden to society, and
he righted his own life at fearful cost and taught humanity how to
save itself this suffering.
He was noble, rich, famous, honored, courted, petted, and beloved,
and yet chose to be a plebeian, a laborer.
Yes, you say, but he had no anxiety because his wife was offered his
riches for his benefit. How do you know? His tragic end indicates his
sincerity. His deepest despair came from the charges that he wore a
silk shirt under a laborer's smock.
Many artists have an artistic conscience. Tolstoy sought to make his
artistic conscience coincide with his human conscience.
He does not betray his caste, but exalts it.
Anna Karenina stands beside the adulterous woman rescued by Jesus.
Both women are beloved of all humanity. Both victims of an unjust
system. Both marked with a grace which was borne of God, who is too
pure to behold iniquity.
Just a word to call to witness the crowning beauty of Tolstoy's
honesty and sincerity.
First, his power to depict nature. In every page which he wrote one
is impressed with the superb beauty of his picture, its real realism
as distinguished from artistic realism.
Second, his humor so delicate as hardly to be traced in such
characters as Oblensky the ineffectual, lovable, unworthy husband of
Dolly. Old Count Rostof, always broke, like Mr. Micawber. Levin, who
must provoke a smile much as did David Copperfield in his love for
Dora, however sincere was that affection. And Pierre, a fine contrast
on the battle field.
Third, his pathos, which far excels anything in literature. Even
Charles Dickens pales somewhat in the stolen visit of Anna Karenina to
her little son after she had deserted her husband.
It is such supreme powers as these the love of nature, the gift of
humor, the power of pathos, that are promised to all who will follow
the straight and narrow path laid out by Henry George.
People in the mass do not work out their economic or social problems.
They are either too busy or too indifferent and so accept whatever
fashionable opinion may be handed down to them. It is so much easier
to run along with stylish ideas and so avoid the danger of being